CHICAGO — First-time film director Richard Knight Jr. and a stacked cast of local actors set out 10 years ago to film “Scrooge & Marley,” a gay take on the classic holiday story “A Christmas Carol.”
The film is also being adapted into a live musical, premiering 7 p.m. Monday at the Center on Halsted’s Hoover-Leppen Theatre, 3656 N. Halsted St. Tickets are free and can be reserved on the Center’s website.
“Scrooge & Marley” stars actor David Pevsner as Ben Scrooge, who is visited by the ghost of his friend Jacob Marley, played by former “Saturday Night Live” actor Tim Kazurinsky.
The film largely follows the narrative arc of “A Christmas Carol,” but deviates to share more of Scrooge’s backstory. It also portrays several characters, including Scrooge and Marley, as gay.
“So in our version, we delve further into why Scrooge is so bitter and money-hungry, and it’s because he was kicked out as a teenager for being gay,” Knight said. “And that’s just so typical.”
As with the classic story, Scrooge is visited by ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, Knight said.
In Scrooge’s journey through his past, viewers will see him on the streets after being kicked out, Knight said. Scrooge ends up going to the local disco, filmed at the famed, now-closed gay bathhouse Man’s Country.
“It’s the hottest club in town, and that’s where Scrooge meets Marley, who’s kind of this con guy,” Knight said. “Together they take on the club’s owner.”
Throughout Scrooge’s visits by the other two ghosts, viewers will see his redemption arc as Scrooge is healed by the power of love, Knight said.
“It’s purposely an old-fashioned take on the story, but told in a gay way,” Knight said. “This is really meant to make you feel good. It will make you sad, but then it will make you feel really good.”
Crew members include Peter Neville, co-director, editor and co-producer; Tracy Baim, producer; David Strzepek, producer; Ellen Stoneking, co-writer and co-producer; and Lisa McQueen, who wrote the music score and original songs.
“It was such a local effort and that’s how we did it,” Knight said. “Everybody jumped in and said, ‘We will help you.’ We made it snow in May.”
Everybody was passionate about creating the movie because gay holiday flicks were uncommon in 2012, aside from a few movies including 2009’s “Make the Yuletide Gay,” Knight said.
“Ten years ago, people were astonished to see this kind of film on the screen,” Knight said. “That’s why representation is so powerful. Everybody wants to see themselves represented and should be represented.”
Gay holiday movies are much more common now, Knight said. But the attacks on LGBTQ people are still prevalent.
“Every time I watch the scene where Scrooge is kicked out, his father is just merciless, but that was the experience,” Knight said. “And it’s still the experience. So many of us are still going through this, and hate is on the rise again. People are being vilified for who they are.”
Knight said he’s most excited for new people to enjoy the film and its timely themes.
“As Harvey Fierstein once told me in 1988, we have 1,000 stories to tell in the gay community,'” Knight said. “We’re just getting started here.”